Shade ball: A black plastic ball, 4 inches in diameter, designed to block sunlight from the surface of a reservoir. Also spelled shadeball.
On August 10, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power released 20,000 shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir. (Watch: video of shade ball release.) According to a press release issued by the utility:
LADWP is the first utility company to use this technology for water quality protection. Today’s deployment marked the final phase of an effort that involves the deployment of 96 million shade balls to the 175-acre reservoir -- the largest in-basin facility of its kind owned and managed by LADWP. The small, black plastic balls protect water quality by preventing sunlight-triggered chemical reactions, deterring birds and other wildlife, and protecting water from rain and wind-blown dust.
Similar, smaller shade-ball projects have been implemented in Israel.
On August 11, Bloomberg Businessweek published a story about the project that opened with an italicized question – “Shade balls?” – and followed up thus:
They emerged from obscurity Tuesday morning on the Internet with all the markings of Buzzphrase of the Year. It’s shady. It’s enigmatic. To stoke juvenile social media glee, it has the word “balls” in it. And it’s dead serious.
The shade ball story quickly went national, and just as quickly was misinterpreted. The balls are not, as the New York Times reported, primarily a drought-mitigation measure: they are meant to maintain the quality of drinking water without resorting to chemical treatment. Nor, as some dubious “experts” told Fox News, is black “the worst color for the job.” (On the contrary, it’s ideal, according to the science website space.io9.)
The water-weighted balls, which cost 36 cents each and have an estimated lifespan of 10 years, block ultraviolet rays from reaching the water and thus prevent algae bloom and preserve water quality. The L.A. Reservoir shade balls were manufactured by three companies, including XavierC in Glendora (Los Angeles County), which uses the less-catchy term “conservation balls.” XavierC’s president, Sydney Chase, sold her house to raise the capital to start the company. Businessweek revealed the story behind the name:
The “Xavier” is Xavier Castillo, who worked for 18 years in information technology at the Pomona-based Casa Colina physical rehabilitation center. Castillo, 47, survived a car accident at 27 that left him a quadriplegic. He and Chase met by chance four years ago, and he came on board when he learned she wanted to hire disabled veterans who’d been having trouble finding work elsewhere. Factory work itself would be difficult for many of them, so Chase envisioned a company at which vets could perform administrative, marketing, and other tasks on a computer. Castillo controls his own computer using his neck and shoulder muscles, Chase says.
On August 15, a company called ChemGiant, based in Torrance (Los Angeles County), filed for trademark protection of the name “Shade Balls.”
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ChemGiant – which was not a vendor for the LADWP reservoir project – already has a dedicated web address for the product, shade-balls.com. (Slogan: “Balls are our business.”) The company also sells “airport bird balls,” but is not using the trademark symbol with that term.